The Swiss economy and the war in Ukraine – economic and humanitarian perspectives
Swiss companies’ humanitarian engagement
The tragedy of the war in Ukraine shows the fundamental importance of peace to everyone. At the same time, it underlines the urgent necessity of humanitarian relief in the affected areas and along refugee routes. Unfortunately, such aid and support will very likely continue to be needed in the medium and long term.
A first qualitative survey of member companies conducted by economiesuisse in March 2022 confirms: In addition to the Swiss government, aid organisations and private individuals, many Swiss businesses are also directly involved. 28 companies from all relevant sectors gave their views on their humanitarian engagement in the context of the war in Ukraine. The vast majority of them - medium-sized companies and global corporations – have subsidiaries in Ukraine or in neighbouring countries.
The willingness to help is immense, not only among companies but also among their employees. In Switzerland, companies provide support for refugees arriving from the war zone. According to data from the State Secretariat for Migration SEM of May 10, 2022, 47,980 people were registered in Switzerland. The labour market integration of the refugees is progressing well. But companies are also providing direct support for employees and the suffering population in Ukraine and the border areas nearby.
Swiss companies help with financial and in-kind contributions
Companies, employees, and customers provide substantial financial donations. These donations are made either directly to those affected in Ukraine or through aid organisations, foundations, or refugee aid. Companies also often participate in fundraising campaigns launched by their employees. One frequently used model is the so-called matching fund: donations from employees, customers or the public are doubled or tripled by contributing companies – often through their company foundations. As a result, sums in the millions are raised quite often. A short survey by economiesuisse found that participating companies have donated over CHF 27 million so far but reliable estimates of the total volume of donations from the entire Swiss economy are not available. On average, companies participating in the survey donated more than one million francs.
In addition to their financial support, companies from a wide range of industries are also continuously delivering large quantities of relief supplies to the affected areas. 44 percent of companies surveyed also donate goods. The value of these donations exceeds the amount of financial donations many times over. In-kind donations include several million packages of medicines and diagnostics, hundreds of tonnes of food, clothing, blankets, torches and more. The goods are distributed partly by the companies’ own employees at their facilities or through relief organisations and the local civilian population.
Encourage volunteering for humanitarian engagement
Several companies also encourage their employees to volunteer. This includes, for example, welcoming refugees into their homes during paid working hours or granting extra holidays for humanitarian engagement. Several companies also stated that they make unused company buildings and guest flats available as accommodations for refugees. Moreover, there are newly created or currently planned projects that support people seeking protection in their job search, training, and childcare. There were also reports of spontaneous actions by individual employees who volunteered, e.g. to transport refugees in company vehicles from the border regions to safe places in neighbouring countries.
Help for local employees
For security reasons, branch offices and production facilities of numerous companies in Ukraine had to be temporarily closed. However, the surveyed companies are making efforts to help employees and their families wishing to leave the country to do so. They are in constant contact with employees who have to or want to stay on site. Wage payments are maintained, and the companies provide material and financial support.
Some companies provide housing for employees who have fled to neighbouring countries or to Switzerland and provide support to those who want to continue working while abroad. Ukrainian employees who were already living outside Ukraine before the outbreak of the war are also assisted. They receive donations in kind and financial resources from staff and supervisors when they take in family members or friends who have fled. In Switzerland, as well as in border areas and in Ukraine, services like support centres and hotlines have been set up to provide psychological assistance.
The Swiss business community pitches in – examples
Medicines: Roche and Novartis
As emergency aid, Novartis supported the three humanitarian aid organisations – International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee – with an initial donation of USD 3 million in total. In addition, more than one million packs of antibiotics, painkillers, cardiovascular and oncology medicines worth USD 25 million have been donated so far for the medical care of people in Ukraine and border areas.
Roche already donated 150,000 packages of an antibiotic and 4,600 packages of special medicines, including for the treatment of influenza and various types of cancer. Roche also donated reagents and consumables for automated testing of blood donations and diabetes management. In addition, Roche employees in the country affiliates support Ukraine and refugees from Ukraine with specific aid offers.
Nestlé is actively involved in helping the people of Ukraine. Every week, the company delivers essential nutrition products such as water, baby food, soups or noodles worth more than one million Swiss francs. So far, more than 50 million portions have been provided. At the same time, Nestlé is trying to maintain local operations as much as possible. According to Nestlé, 60 percent of the pre-war volume can currently be provided.
Nestlé employees around the world are standing together, showing solidarity, and making joint donations to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The total amount donated for Ukraine will be matched by Nestlé. In some countries, Nestlé employees are hosting people who have fled Ukraine. In addition, many employees are initiating and participating in local relief efforts in various countries. For example, local employees, with the help of defence personnel and volunteers, were able to deliver over 140 tonnes of instant products to people seeking protection in Kharkiv. Nestlé delivers 100 pallets of much-needed food every day to people in need on the ground.
Supporting employees on the ground: Daetwyler
Daetwyler Holding Inc. has around 100 employees at its production site in Ukraine. Immediately after the war started, operations had to be suspended. The company is in daily contact with the location managers and has so far been able to ensure ongoing salary payments. Financial support was provided to the local employees through the payment of three months' salary in March.
Former and current staff members have founded the charity association help4Ukraine. The association uses company resources to support Daetwyler employees in Malyn and their families. At the beginning of April, the association held a collection week at all Daetwyler locations worldwide. This raised CHF 54,322. Daetwyler will double this amount donated by employees to CHF 110,000.
Immediate aid and support for the reconstruction: Weidmann
The Swiss industrial company Weidmann, which specialises in electrical engineering and medical technology, also has a production site in Ukraine. Around 600 people are employed there. When the war broke out, production had to be halted. Wages continued to be paid. In the first period, the company supported its employees if they wanted to leave to join family members in neighbouring countries. It was also possible to offer employment at sister facilities in the surrounding neighbouring countries. In the meantime, production has partially restarted and most of the employees have returned. The company also supports the local community itself. An association was founded for this purpose. Following the emergency aid, the focus is now on supporting reconstruction after the end of the war.
Refugees in Switzerland and Europe: Zurich and Z Zurich Foundation
The Z Zurich Foundation launched a global fundraising campaign to help victims of the crisis. It raised CHF 2 million (including matching from the Z Zurich Foundation) for the International Rescue Committee, International Committee of the Red Cross and Save the Children and made over 20 donations to local and international organisations. Separately, the Z Zurich Foundation is raising funds for programs to support the mental health and psychological well-being of young refugees.
In the city of Zurich, rooms and infrastructure at the Zurich Development Centre have been made available for integration and language courses for Ukrainian refugees. Zurich is helping refugees navigate the employment market in Switzerland and is cooperating with local authorities on labour market integration with the aim of hiring Ukrainian refugees. In Barcelona, Bratislava and Krakow, Zurich is looking to fill IT vacancies with Ukrainians.
Across Europe, employees are using paid volunteer days to support humanitarian efforts. Zurich has increased the number of volunteering days in many European countries. For employees and their immediate families hosting Ukrainian refugees, the Z Zurich Foundation has established a voucher scheme to help guests with the purchase of food, clothing, and other essentials.
Many other Swiss companies are making humanitarian commitments in connection with the war in Ukraine. For example, numerous companies have responded to Swiss Solidarity's appeal for donations, as can be seen on its website.
While the course of the war in Ukraine is difficult to predict, it seems clear that the needs and challenges of the affected population will change – and likely increase – as the fighting continues. Humanitarian relief efforts need to prepare for the long haul.
Do humanitarian principles also apply to the civilian population of the aggressor?
International humanitarian law also protects the civilian population of the aggressor – in this case the Russian population. The question therefore arises how the sanctions measures against the Russian economy should be designed to comply with this humanitarian principle. However, there is a dilemma here.
Clearly, life-saving medicines or basic food supplies are to be considered humanitarian goods and their delivery should not be completely stopped. The challenge, however, is that these must not fall into the hands of the government. Otherwise, the government could choose to deliver them to the warring troops. With this in mind, special distribution channels are set up to ensure that essential humanitarian goods are only made available to the civilian population.